Category Archives: Books and Product Reviews

Book Review of…

Challenge Series: WINTER

by Anthony McGeehan

From MG: Well of course I want folk to buy the book. I hope people are inspired and encouraged in their birding; maybe even take on a  new perspective. I wish today that new little discoveries are made. But I do get a little overawed sometimes. Such is the nature of book reviews and especially with ‘WINTER’ which seems to have been particularly well received. So aware of some reticence on my part but grateful for positive input, here is one of several reviews of the new book.

The review is by Anthony McGeehan. You can find more of Anthony’s work and discoveries on his  Facebook Page

“I had only BF challenge series cover onlyone problem with this book. Setting out to review it, I could not find my copy. I searched the stack beside my bed and the rows on various shelves. In what I interpreted as a moment of divine inspiration, I ransacked the car. The next move was to accuse an innocent other of moving it inadvertently. A day passed. Next morning I picked up my rucksack and something clicked in my memory. I unzipped a pouch and remembered. I had forgotten that I had decided to keep the book with me in the field at all times. That is how relevant it is: too good to be left behind indoors.

Martin has a unique approach to promoting bird identification. He produces collections of material that serve both as a primer and reliable reference. His enthusiasm is messianic. Although interested in everything ornithological, his mission is to delve into identification topics that are either knotty or have not drawn previous attention. He loves minefields. The book concentrates on 15 topics. Some are groups of look-alike species, such as redpolls, or constituent subspecies that are unified under a single species banner, for example Icelandic and European Redwings or Arctic Peregrine and Peregrine. Rather than being, like the rest of us, fazed by the uncertainty of distinguishing (my words) sub-genre from sub-genre, Martin sets to work and then lays out the evidence. The book, therefore, is an assembly of text and photographs with artwork by Irish artist Ray Scally, who is fast becoming as perceptive with a paintbrush as Martin is with words. New-fangled, the book uses QR codes than can be scanned with a smart phone or tablet, transporting the reader to dedicated web pages.

The danger of not just specialising in identification challenges but also putting the aspiration in lights, is that the going will be heavy. Far from it. Martin has a deft touch, a skill that is hard to acquire and says everything about what makes him tick. From cover to cover, you sense that he really wants you to follow where he leads and is trying to keep hold of your hand every step of the way. Why does he want to crack the hard stuff? I do not know. His ideas and presentations are the raw material of future reference books. He is born pioneer. It is as though he was gifted some kind of metaphysical insight and he is determined to share it for the common good. I have been with him more than once when he noticed identification features that I failed to see but that he, through explaining his perception, brought into existence. Almost literally, he can make the blind see.”

To buy a copy go HERE

The review is by Anthony McGeehan. You can find more of Anthony’s work and discoveries on his Facebook Page

Thank you Filey Bird Observatory

Them there lovely folks!

In the slightly odd world I live in and sometimes interface between different realities…  I was having a blood transfusion t’other day ready for a next treatment. Takes about 3 hours. As I had been difficult to pin down, representation was sent from Filey Bird Obs and associated friends to deliver a gift. Quite why is till a little beyond me. However the gift was very gratefully received amidst a teary- eyed blubber of thankfulness.

Really you guys messed up my mascara and everything. It is such a blessing. Only one problem…Audubon 10 (1 of 1)

The gift is huge. It’s a book and is far and away the biggest book I have ever owned. It’s really a display book, so it’s is currently on display. Each day I can flick through the pages and let them settle on a favourite.

So Filey and friends- THANK YOU!! I love it. It is stunning. Thought I would share a bit with you:

Here it is next to my parabolic reflector on a rather large dining room table.

Audubon 11 (1 of 1)


Featuring beautiful images of the Birding Frontiers logo: The Marsh Hawk

Marsh Hawk  (1 of 1)


Full page colour like these Pied-billed Grebes

Audubon 6 (1 of 1)


Love this female Green-winged Teal with Garganeyish face pattern- spot on :)

Audubon 7 (1 of 1)


Is this a southern Black Guillemots or Mandt’s? (see Challenge series: WINTER!)

Audubon 9 (1 of 1)


Lots of pretty little black and white vignettes with the text like next to these Bobolink

Audubon 5 (1 of 1)


Ivory-billed Woodpecker for people like Martin Collinson

Ivory billed Woodpecker 2 (1 of 1)


and finally I think my friends in Arctic Norway will like this one:

Audubon 8 (1 of 1)


Did I say it clearly enough? You are a blessing Filey… dudes. Thank you very much.







A New Digital Guide to Ageing and Sexing of Birds

Magnus Hellström

“New species will be added, and bad photographs will be exchanged for better ones. But with new birds, new camera models and new light-systems pouring out each year, chances are that we will never reach a state where we will feel we have fully arrived. But that’s in the nature of the project. And part of its appeal.”


The short version:

Are you interested in the ageing and sexing of northern European birds?
Visit our new online guide:

The slightly longer version:

Every keen birdwatcher or ringer puts a lot of effort in ageing the birds in front of them. Why? A simple answer could be ‘because it’s fun’. Yes, I agree, it really is fun! But in a larger context the methods for ageing and sexing are also important tools that may tell us things about the state of our environment. Without such tools we would not know much about breeding success, winter survival, age- or sex-related differences in the timing of the migration or in the choice of wintering areas etc. The list could be made much longer, and by recording the age and sex of your birds, the importance of your notebook will grow significantly. And, it’s fun…!

Black Redstarts are a joy to every birder! Did you know that it is possible to age and sex some of the female type birds, even in field?

Black Redstarts are a joy to every birder! Did you know that it’s possible to sex a few of the female-type young birds, even in the field? The details are explained in the new guide, but in these two birds (that have conducted a more extensive post-juvenile moult than average), the tertials indicate both the age and the sex. The upper bird included all tertials in the moult, showing a good contrast with the still juvenile (and worn) secondaries, clearly visible in the small image to the right. The lower bird included the two inner tertials which contrasts to the still juvenile longer one. In this species, post-juvenile tertials (as well as the future post-breeding generations) can be used for sexing since males show silvery white edges to, at least one or two, of these feathers, while females don’t. Hence, a young female above, and a young male below.

At Ottenby Bird Observatory, SE Sweden, ringing of birds have been carried out since the end of World War II. A lot of knowledge has evolved from this activity, and ringers have been passing their increasing skills further to younger generations for decades now. During the last 20 years, the digital revolution have blessed us with (among other things) the internet, as well as the digital camera. Two great inventions without which the world would be a lot more boring. The ringers at Ottenby started to digitally document birds of different ages in the early 2000’s. In the beginning, the photos were terribly bad, but practise combined with technological achievments soon made us realize that the results may actually be very useful when training young and promising ringers. The idea of a ‘digiguide’ was born! And since the images were digital, why not put them on the internet in order to make the biggest possible use of them…


A 3cy+ Long-eard Owl, October. Birds showing moult contrast in the secondaries, and where the retained (worn) generation shows the adult type pattern, with similar barring to the adjecent fresh feathers, are possible to specify as 3cy+.

Today, more than a decade later, Ottenby B.O. sits on a hard disc drive containing close to 70.000 images of 3.900 individual hand-held birds of more than 230 species. Compiling these into an appropriate format, suitable for public viewing, is a huge task! But now we have started.

Since a couple of days ago, the doors have been open on the following address: Here you will find a user-friendly, practical and accurate guide to ageing and sexing of the birds passing through the Baltics (which are generally very similar to the species passing through British and other West European Bird Observatories). Initially, just above 30 species are included, but this number is planned to grow significantly during 2015.


Reed or Marsh? Or both? The guide will focus on ageing and sexing, but in a few cases we will also include some help for the species ID. In the photo shown here, a Marsh Warbler is seen to the left and a Reed Warbler to the right. Among other things, note the difference in coloration, proportions of the bills and the Reed Warblers tendency to show a slightly more contrasting eye-ring.

So, what are the high-lights? Well, as a ringer I would perhaps vote for pedagogical birds such as the 2cy Tree Pipits showing three different generations of coverts (remember to click each photo in order to view in large format). But as a birder with a Western European perspective I believe I would go for the beautiful images in the sexing chapter of autumn Red-breasted Flycatchers! Smashing birds! And how many of you have seen the plumage of the lower bird on that page? And don’t miss the Long-eared Owls. Or the Nightjars. Or the Snow Buntings…


A tristis-Chiffchaff in October. Can you find the moult contrast, proving the bird as a 1cy?

Ringers’ DigiGuide (yes, that’s what we chose to call it) is a living document. New species will be added, and bad photographs will be exchanged for better ones. But with new birds, new camera models and new light-systems pouring out each year, chances are that we never reach a state where we will feel we have fully arrived. But that’s in the nature of the project. And part of its appeal.


A beautiful Greenfinch! Adult or young? Male or female?

So, go a head and have a look around. The pages are not responsive, but the layout was chosen in order to work properly on smartphones and tablets as well. In that way we hope it will be of good use also in the field.


In many species the colour of the birds’ iris undergo a general development during the first year of living, basically turning warmer with age. Two autumn Thrush Nightingales shown here – a young to the left and an adult to the right.

BIRDS of the Homeplace. Anthony McGeehan with Julian Wyllie

Want a feast this Christmas? Birds_of_the_Homeplace

A review by Martin Garner

Want a feast this Christmas? Look no further than Anthony McGeehan’s latest offering. Following ‘Bird’s Through Irish Eyes’, reviewed HERE, this new publication seeks to inform and inspire the nature and bird enthusiasts of Ireland- it easily serves a much wider audience.



 Don’t be fooled. However long or short a time you have been birding. However much or little time you spend in the field, however big or small your garden, I cannot see how you will fail to be both informed and inspired beyond expectation.

Indeed I must apologise as I had hoped to say something here sooner but have been a little stymied by several factors, not least the volume of fascinating material which I wanted to try to digest before tap tapping on the keyboard. There’s too much good stuff here and I’m not going to make it so…Jackdaw

…the book is set aside on me wee coffee table as the Christmas season read in preparation for January 1st 2015. Why? I am a compulsive January 1st birdwatcher. I have been for 40 years. When the local church bells toll midnight and a new year begins, so I look on a fresh clean canvas. It’s all-new. Anticipated excitement already grips me as there is so much to see, so much I hope to learn. Most of the birds I see  in 2015 will of course be species I have seen before, yet I know I can come to each one with fresh eyes and an open heart to discover.

This book is the ideal primer.

Anthony’s familiar engaging writing style, is once again coal titbeautifully illustrated by well-chosen photographs sometimes in clever collage form to aid the communication of ideas. The pages are dripping with new insights and observations. I know I will be watching the Starlings and Reed Bunting, Coals Tits and Song Thrushes with renewed wonder.

In roughly two halves, the 231 pages are divided between a 25-chapter section giving insights into the lives of common birds. This is followed by a closer look at 70 common species. In the course of his writing I was privy to some of Antony’s discoveries begun with his own field observations. It was tantamount to hearing from an investigative reporter who had unearthed startling new information on a familiar human narrative. So juicy were some of his observations I seriously contemplated poaching and publishing :) . In the end I could only allude, in talks I was giving at the time, about ‘discoveries on birds are still being made from he kitchen window’. In summarizing this inadequate review then:

This book is a Christmas feast for all ornithologists whether professional and ‘established’ or just awakening that passion as in my 7-year-old niece Charlie. Indeed a need is arising in me now to leave the laptop and engage with the wonders, even mini- miracles of the wild birds on my doorstep.

 A Delicious Read!

Birds of the Homeplace
The Lives of Ireland’s Familiar Birds
By Anthony McGeehan with Julian Wyllie

Some fascinating bird facts found in BIRDS of the Homeplace:


  • The brains of some titmice (such as Coal Tit) brains expand in volume by 30 per cent during the autumn burst of food storing so that the bird can remember where it left its winter stores of food.
  • Birds have eyes with two focussing spots and because the optic nerve is controlled by two separate parts of the brain, what is seen by the left eye isn’t remembered by the right.
  • Birds can see in ultraviolet as well polarising light and use it as a means to navigate – as did the Vikings who are believed to have used a crystal, coined a ‘sunstone’, as a polarising filter that glinted blue when pointed to the invisible sun during cloudy weather.
  • Songbirds can lose up to 10 per cent of their body weight at night.
  • Longevity records aren’t always accurate as the metal rings used to tag birds corrode in water, meaning individuals could be older.
  • When a Peregrine attacks from above, it reaches such velocity (70–90 m per second/252–324 km/h) that the G-forces encountered would make a human pilot black out.
  • A Swallow, whose arrival signals the end of winter, weighs about the same as a slice of buttered toast.
  • Dunnocks sometimes indulge in a ménage-à-trois with a female using two males to make sure her two chicks are well fed.
  • It’s well known that Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests but did you know that Cuckoo chicks jettison their step-siblings from the nest, despite weighing a mere 3 grams?
  • Male sex organs regrow just before the mating season. And during the mating season the males display and the females choose!
  • Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus, who founded a framework for naming nature called binomial nomenclature, used phonetics to name birds e.g. Crex crex for Corncrake and Pica pica for Magpie.
  • Birds identify each other through song and often adopt the trills of neighbours – an outsider doesn’t stand a chance of sneaking in.
  • A bird’s respiratory system extracts oxygen from air using air sacs as well as lungs. Sacs are located throughout the body, such as within abdominal cavities and between the skin and body walls. Ironically, the lungs themselves hold almost no used air. Each intake of breath travels a continuous path around various parts of the anatomy where sacs extract oxygen from the passing stream of air.
  • Inside eggs, chicks call to each other. Chicks can also pick out their parents’ call from a crowd.
  • Blackbirds stalking worms employ a rugby scrum ‘crouch, touch, engage’ action.
  • A Jackdaw was trained to open eight boxes to find five pieces of food, some of which were stored in pairs to challenge the bird’s counting skills. He found them all and counted by nodding his head once for the first piece, twice for the second and so on.
  • Sparrowhawks are harbingers of havoc – in Anglo-Saxon Old English, ‘hafoc’ meant hawk.



Challenge Series: AUTUMN

 Reviews and Views

We have been delighted and at times a littleChalleneg series cover overwhelmed by the response to the new book. Lots of folk getting in touch to say how much they are enjoying it and getting out of it.

Note sure I can remember every country but certainly besides majority of sale in the UK, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Israel, Hungary, Poland, Australia, Japan, Canada, U.S.A. (and more)  have all had some copies :)



Reviews. Still chewing on whether to get one?

Here’s a few reviews. More on the book and how to get your copy HERE


Paul Higson from Orkney posting on Birdforum

In short – just buy it !!!!

Packed full of ideas/information/questions etc etc. Informative, educational, intriguing and inspirational. And then you get all the stuff hidden in the QR codes. . . .

We get Redpolls of all sizes and shapes throughout the year on Orkney – I am now suitably fired up to make an attempt at trying to find out what they are and where they come from – and every Bonxie will be given an extensive grilling from now on.

In exchange for a brown and a blue drinking voucher you get way more than your money’s worth.

A huge BOOM from me.”


Here then is a refreshingly enthusiastic attempt to energise our autumn birding, a call to get out more, to get more value from what we see and to join a collective process of exploration and discovery. At the beginning of the year’s best bird-hunting season, what could be more inspiring than that?”

From the Rare Bird Alert (RBA) review by Andy Stoddart. Read more HERE


“The first tantalising glimpse of the Challenge Series had this frugal Yorkshireman reaching to the dark (rarely ventured) depths of his pockets and having now been privileged to have a review copy I can honestly say it was money well spent. This will certainly be part of my baggage allowance on my trip north this autumn.”

From Mark Reeder on ‘Of Pies and Birds. Read more HERE


Critics might argue that this is an amalgamation of the many informative blog posts Martin (and others) have produced for the Birding Frontiers website in recent years. However, there’s far more to it than that and it’s a beautiful production to boot — presented in a crisp, fresh format, it’s not just packed with informative content but looks great too. Challenge Series: Autumn is a fine piece of work, expertly delivered and illustrated capturing the zeitgeist of modern birding identification. If you haven’t already accepted the challenge, don’t delay any longer…

From the Birdguides review by Alan Tilmouth. Read more HERE


If you are a BIRDWATCH magazine subscriber you can get it a bit cheaper HERE

but you can’t buy it HERE :)

More on the book and how to get your copy HERE


Filey Bird Report 2013

Now and Happening!

review by David Campbell


Situated between Flamborough Head and Scarborough, Filey is coveted as one of the finest birding locations on the Yorkshire coast. The recording area list is peppered with a number of terrific rarities, and seasoned birders are quite likely to have visited, perhaps for Britain’s first Spectacled Warbler in 1992. Filey has a devoted band of enthusiasts in the form of Filey Bird Observatory and Group (FBOG) who work tirelessly to record and conserve the birds and wildlife of this important site by, among other activities, managing habitat, ringing and expeditiously producing an annual report. FBOG’s 2013 Filey Bird Report, the 37th edition, produced by a small team of volunteers, comes in a new large format and has been overhauled from cover to cover.

Layout 2


The front cover provides instant enticement to delve in, with a pleasing design driven by a collection of 14 high quality images of birds taken at Filey in 2013, both common and scarce. The Species List section is generously decorated with Colin Wilkinson’s charming and talented artwork, some pieces colour, and others monochrome; the written content of the Systematic List, meanwhile, is fascinating – 225 species treated in good detail when it comes to first and last dates, high counts and visible migration totals. The section is well-treated with tables presenting data predominantly covering peak day-counts, visible migration and seawatching figures.Duskypage


Despite the report being published in full colour, none of its many high quality bird photographs are scattered within Species List; instead, ‘Birds in Profile’ includes 41 good-sized images including some of Filey’s commoner species along with many of 2013’s scarcity highlights. This section is at once beautiful and sickening to peruse – if only we were all lucky enough to have a patch like Filey! A number of other photographs are found in the ‘Annual Review’ – a traditional synopsis of the ornithological year at Filey – and in ‘A year at Filey’, a collection of well-written articles detailing some of the most significant finds of 2013, as well as pieces on garden birding, cetaceans and breeding auks. Among the articles are accounts of the discoveries of two firsts for Yorkshire – Black-headed Wagtail and Brünnich’s Guillemot – and these make for gripping reading, especially as neither bird remained for long.



Sections towards the back of the report deliver summaries of the other wildlife recorded at Filey in 2013. Butterfly records are looked at month-by-month while dragonfly records are organised by species. Overviews are also given for plants and mammals and it is heartening to see FBOG accumulating a wealth of data on an array of non-avian species.



A ringing review adds to the glut of information so neatly packed into the 136 page publication and includes details of recoveries alongside ringing totals. Although a key is provided for different types of recovery, an explanation for age/sex codes has been omitted and may lead to confusion for non-ringing readers. Although the general lack of migrants trapped is bemoaned in this section, crippling images of Red-breasted Flycatcher and Yellow-browed Warbler in the hand make you think that they could have had it worse!


The 2013 Filey Bird Report is, all in all, very aesthetically pleasing, accessible and jammed full of useful information, particularly for an east coast birder. The passion and skill that has so clearly gone into putting the report together is admirable and the new edition easily qualifies as the benchmark for other local reports to aim for. All proceeds from the sales of the report go directly to the work of FBOG, and at £8, the report is a steal for its professional-style quality. It is truly up there with the best bird reports, and is worthy of a slot on the bookshelf of any collector or those with an interest in the birds of the east coast and beyond.


David Campbell


Now available for only £8 (plus p+p) from the Filey Bird observatory website HERE

A Few Words about the Book Launch

Friday 15th August 3:30 pm at the Author’s Wildlife Forum

If you at the Birdfair on Friday– you’d beChalleneg series cover very welcome to come along. I’ll give a short 15 minute talk on the book- how it came to be and wot’s in it- hoping to amuse and entertain. :)Then a chance to meet and chat.

You can buy the book at this event this coming Friday and I will be signing copies etc. etc.

Please come along and say hello!


There is a review of the book on Mark Reeder’s ‘Of Pies and Birds’ website. Just CLICK.

More info on content etc HERE.